A few months ago I sang widely the praises of the Hawk–Richard Jazz Orchestra, a company of relative unknowns from Texas who made a dream come true by producing one of the more colorful and exciting big–band discs of ’98. Few contemporary ensembles have impressed me as much as Hawk–Richard — but here’s one that has, the Emerald City Jazz Orchestra led by trumpeter Kevin Seeley. No, they’re not from Oz; the Seattle, Washington, area actually. But the point of origin is irrelevant. What matters most is what the band brings to the table, and Emerald City offers as deliciously appealing a banquet for the ears as one could possibly envision. Section work is immaculate, soloists are superb, and the rhythm section simply kicks ass. Above all, everyone plays with conspicuous fire and enthusiasm, diving earnestly into every chart as if it were the last one they’d ever encounter. And speaking of charts, any first–class big band sounds even more inspiring with an expert arranger at its beck and call, and the Emerald City Orchestra assuredly has one in Matso Limtiaco. The ensemble’s baritone saxophonist contributed nine charts and three compositions (the picturesque “Oregon Coast Sketches”), and every one glistens like newly minted gold. There were times (on “Love for Sale” or Monk’s “Well You Needn’t,” for example) when I could almost swear I was hearing a recent Bill Holman chart, while parts of “Oregon Coast Sketches” (particularly the first movement) brought to mind another outstanding West Coast composer/arranger, Bob Florence (with echoes of the great Stan Kenton band as well). Limtiaco’s no slavish imitator, but if one is going to assimilate in his work impressions of other composers, he could do worse than Holman, Florence or Kenton. Especially captivating is Limtiaco’s unique, slow–paced arrangement of the Australian folk song, “Waltzing Mathilda.” The other charts, by Rick Stitzel (“Nancy”) and Dave Aaberg (“I Remember Clifford”), John Wikan’s orchestration of “Paper Moon” from the Basie library, and Ted Heath's arrangement of "Stardust," are only a short stride behind Limtiaco's; in other words, they're also impressive. And so are the soloists, including alto saxophonist Taylor (who is showcased on two numbers, "Nancy" and "Very Early"), pianist Lubag ("Paper Moon," "Tolovana Stomp," "Well You Needn't"), trombonists Ostrander ("Waltzing Mathilda") and David Marriott ("Moonlight and Mo's"), tenors Ranney and Rob Davis, and trumpeters Thomas Marriott ("Love for Sale," featured on "I Remember Clifford"), Sisko, Lyons and Seeley (who solos with Lyons on "Stardust" and plays flawless lead throughout). By any yardstick, another of the year's most commendable big-band releases. Recommended? Without a second thought.
Track listing: It’s Only a Paper Moon; Love for Sale; So What; Nancy; Oregon Coast Sketches (Kites; Moonlight and Mo’s; Tolovana Stomp); I Remember Clifford; New Blues; Very Early; Waltzing Mathilda; Well You Needn’t; Stardust (72:15).
Kevin Seeley, Greg Lyon, Thomas Marriott, Jim Sisko, Rich Sumstad, John Paloy, Richard Wetzel, trumpets; Greg Koehler, David Marriott, Jeremy Ostrander, Bob Phillips, Fred Hawkinson, Jeff Newell, Chris Angelos, Chris Laughbon, trombones; Mark Taylor, Charles Davis, Rob Davis, Stuart McDonald, Matso Limtiaco, Travis Ramsey, saxophones; Reuel Lubag, piano; Bryce Van Parys, Andy Zadrozny, bass; Eric Eagle, John Wikan, drums.